Today in botanical history, we celebrate nutmeg, some flower recommendations for a green garden, and the rebirth of the NYC flower show after a ten-year hiatus.
We'll hear an excerpt from some writing by Ray Bradbury.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a beautiful book by Bunny Williams.
And then we'll wrap things up with the fate of Empress Josephine's copy of Pierre-Joseph Redoute's botanical watercolors known as "Les Liliacees" ("The Lilies").
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November 15, 1843
On this day, the New England Farmer ran a little blurb about the Nutmeg Tree.
The nutmeg tree flourishes in Singapore, near the equator. It is raised from the nut in nurseries, where it remains till the fifth year, when it puts forth its first blossoms and shows its sex. It is then set out permanently. The trees are planted thirty feet apart, in diamond order a male tree in the centre. They begin to bear in the eighth year, increasing for many years, and they pay a large profit. There is no nutmeg season. Every day of the year shows buds, blossoms and fiuit, in every stage of growth to maturity. The lutmeg is a large and beautiful tree, with thick foliage and of a rich green color. The ripe fruit is singularly brilliant. The shell is glossy black, and the mace it exposes when it bursts, is of a bright scarlet, making the tree one of the most beautiful objects of the vegetable world.
Well, this article from 1843 was correct. Nutmeg trees can actually grow to be about 65 feet tall. They bear fruit for six decades or longer - so they're very productive. The fruit of the nutmeg tree resembles and apricots.
And by the way, in case you're wondering, the nutmeg is not a nut; it is a fruit - and that's why people with nut allergies can enjoy nutmeg because it's not a nut.
Now the botanical name for nutmeg is Myristica fragrans. The etymology of the word Myristica is Greek and means "fragrance for anointing," which gives us a clue to one of the ways that nutmeg was used in ancient times.
You may have heard that nutmeg is illegal in Saudi Arabia. According to the journal of medical toxicology, nutmeg can be toxic, and in Saudi Arabia, they consider nutmeg to be a narcotic. Nutmeg is not allowed anywhere in the country unless it's already incorporated into some type of pre-blended spice mix.
November 15, 1981
On this day, Henry Mitchell wrote an article for the Washington Post called Blooms in the Boxwood in which he shared some of his favorite plants to grow in a primarily-green garden.
Regarding the Japanese anemone, Henry wrote,
It abides a good bit of shade, and never looks better than against a background of box and ivy. The delicate looking (but tough as leather) flowers are like white half-dollars set on a branching stem about four feet high, with a yellow boss of stamens in the middle. Its leaves all spring from the ground, like large green polished hands, so it looks good from spring to fall, and in winter you tidy it up and the earth is bare (sprigs of the native red cedar or holly can be stuck in…
Regarding bugbane, Henry wrote,
...named for its supposed baneful effect on bugs... Its foliage is as good as or better than that of the anemone, and in October it opens its foxtail flowers (a quite thin fox, admittedly) on firm thin stems waist to chest high. The flowers are made of hundreds of tiny white florets, somewhat like an eremurus or a buddleis, only more gracefully curving than either. Against a green wall it is very handsome; gardeners who sometimes wonder what is wrong with marigolds and zinnias, reproached for their weedy coarseness, need only consult the bugbane to see the difference in elegance.
For Chrysanthemums, Henry advises:
As fall comes, you might indulge in a white cushion chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemums in my opinion cannot be made to look very grand or elegant, so I would not overdo them. Of course they are fine for specialists who like to grow hundreds of different sorts, but I am speaking of just a green garden with a touch of white. Then you come again to the white Japanese anemones and bugbanes.
November 15, 1984
On this day, The New York Times announced the return of a Spring Flower Show for the city.
The International Flower Show ended, after over 10 years of exhibiting in the Coliseum, because of increasing costs and the demise of estates that recruited their garden staffs to create and grow exhibits,
The new show's exhibition space will be 60,000 square feet, as against the 200,000 square feet provided by the Coliseum. An advantage of the new flower show's layout is that it will be on one floor.
Larry Pardue, executive director of the Horticultural Society of New York, sponsor of the show, said:
''It will be unlike any show in the country. Rather than view a series of small gardens, visitors will be totally immersed in two huge gardens, 76 feet by over 100 feet long. It will be designed to be an emotional experience.''
By all accounts, the 1985 flower show was a huge success and was visited by more than 83,000 people.
Larry Pardue became the Sarasota, Florida executive director of the Marie Selby Botanic Gardens, specializing in orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes.
One day many years ago, a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold, sunless shore and said,
"We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I'll make one. I'll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like the trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I'll make a sound that's so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and to all who hear it in the distant towns. I'll make me a sound and an apparatus, and they'll call it a Fog Horn, and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life."
The Fog Horn blew.
― Ray Bradbury, The Fog Horn
Grow That Garden Library
This fantastic book came out in 2016, and it is all about Bunny's marvelous, Caribbean home called La Colina.
This book is a beautiful coffee table book and what's really neat about this book is that each chapter is written by her friends. So Bunny has one friend write about the architecture, then another friend discusses the collections, and another friend talks about the cooking and the food. Then Paige Dickey, the garden writer, toured the gardens and wrote this beautiful essay about Bunny's stunning gardens at La Colina.
Of course, if I weren't a huge Bunny Williams fan if I didn't have her book called An Affair With A House or her book On Garden Style, I maybe would be tempted not to get this book. But I am a huge bunny Williams fan, and I know that everything she does is done with so much beauty, grace, and style that I could not resist getting a copy of this book.
Then once I learned that Paige Dickey was the person that got to review the gardens? Well, then I had to get my copy of this book.
This beautiful book would make a great Christmas present. The photographs are absolutely incredible.
I'll tell you a few of my favorite things from the garden section in this book. There is an entrance to the cactus garden that features all of this blue pottery and in each of these blue pots is a cactus that makes for a stunning entrance to her cactus garden.
There's also a gorgeous stone shell fountain at the end of the swimming pool, and it's covered in vine. In fact, Bunny is known for her use of vines in the garden - something to keep your eyes peeled for if you get this book because you'll see her use of vines throughout the garden. Bunny not only has vines climbing up structures, but they also just ramble around and kind of make their way - softening a lot of the hard edges in the garden.
The hardscapes are absolutely to die for, and there's an avenue of Palm trees in this over-the-top, incredible garden. The entire property is just truly breathtaking.
This book is 256 pages of Bunny Williams in the Caribbean, and it's a must-have if you enjoy Bunny Williams and her work.
Today's Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
November 15, 1985
On this day, The New York Times announced the auction of Empress Josephine's copy of Pierre-Joseph Redoute's botanical watercolors for "Les Liliacees" ("The Lilies").
The speculation in this article was that the auction could go from five minutes long to five hours or longer. They had no idea who would win this particular auction ultimately, and they estimated that Redoute The Lilies would go for anywhere from $5 to $7 million.
Now this work was extra special because Marie Antoinette commissioned it. In fact, there's a famous story that Marie wanted to make sure that Redoute was as good as what she had heard and so she summoned him to come to her chambers in the middle of the night, one night and when he got there, she ordered him to paint her a cactus on the spot. He did, and so obviously, he proved his worth to her, and he began painting many of the flowers in the Royal Gardens.
Now Josephine Bonaparte was a huge lover of the gardens. She loved the flowers. She loved all of the new, exotic flowers from the tropics, so she was always looking for new, beautiful blossoms to put in the Royal garden, and of course, she was a huge Redoute fan.
This impressive Redoute collection became hers and was passed down through her family line until 1935, when the collection was auctioned off in Zurich. Since that time, it was held in a vault, in a bank, as part of a family trust.
Now, when it came to this particular auction, the reporter for this article spoke with a London dealer named Peter Mitchell, who specialized in flower paintings and stressed the important significance of this work. He felt it was so unusual to have all of these originals still intact and still so beautiful. He expressed his concern that the collection might be bought by a syndicate, which basically means that a group of people would get together to buy the collection and then split it up. Thus, everybody in the syndicate would get their share of the collection.
To cut the suspense, that's exactly what ended up happening.
I checked the New York times for the result of this sale, and here's what they wrote.
“The sale lasted only three minutes. It was one of the fastest ever for such an expensive property. And the price achieved was the 10th highest for work purchased at an art auction house.
''I have $5 million against all of you on the phone and most of you standing,'' John L. Marion, Sotheby's president, said from the rostrum. ''Is there any advance on $5 million? I give you fair warning - sold for $5 million.'' The 10 percent buyer's commission brought the total selling price to $5.5 million.
The gentleman who represented the syndicate said that he thought the collection was worth $20 million, so he was thrilled with his purchase. He also gave a little insight into the syndicate, which was made up of executives from different companies; there was also a shopping mall developer, partners in law firms, commodities traders, and every major investment bank in New York. He said that. 75% of them wanted the watercolors for themselves (they wanted to own a piece of Redoute's botanical art), while the other 25% used it purely for investment.
And so that was the fate of Pierre Joseph Redoute's The Lilies collection of botanical watercolors that Empress Josephine Bonaparte had owned.
Today for you and I, we can purchase copies of Redoute's work on Etsy for around $20.
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